Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies in Rwanda

Medical Drones
A drone flies above the Wise County Fairgrounds before lowering a package of prescription medication at the RAM (Remote Area Medical) clinic in Wise County, Va., Friday, July 17, 2015. (David Crigger/The Bristol Herald-Courier via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

We’ve heard the discussions about drones and how they are invading our privacy and adding a new layer of removal in warfare. In the United States, drones are used as toys and spy equipment and as sports observation platforms. They are also being eyed for delivery of must-have items from Amazon.

But in Rwanda, and elsewhere around the world, drones could be life-saving equipment.

In Africa, drones are being used to help conservation efforts of protected species, such as  elephants and rhinos. Human conservators cannot cover nearly the distance in time that a drone can cover, so this makes perfect sense.

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Now, drones may be used to help humans on the continent, as well. Drones will now be used to deliver medical supplies to the hard-to-reach rural areas of Rwanda and elsewhere. Cargo drones are useful wherever there is a lack of roads. Additionally, they are perhaps less likely to be waylaid or hijacked than are motocycles or vans delivering the same supplies in areas not well guarded by the police or militia.

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Just as mobile phones arrived to connect the disjointed landscape lacking in landline infrastructure in all kinds of new ways, some imagine that drones can have the same revolutionary impact. (From gizmag.com)

Paved roads and other infrastructure aren’t always available in rural areas of Africa, making it very difficult to quickly deliver medical supplies to those who need them most. Operating our of droneports, delivery drones would fly out from the hub and travel up to 100 km (62 miles) to take medical and other urgent supplies to where they’re needed.

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The Droneport will offer the remote aircraft a safe place to take off and land, and serve as a manufacturing center for the drones themselves. It will also include a health clinic, digital fabrication shop, post and courier room, and an e-commerce trading hub. All of which are intended to help generate local employment.

In Rwanda, there will be two drone networks operating. The Red line will operate with smaller drones for medical and emergency supplies, while a commercial Blue line would transport larger payloads like spare parts, electronics, and e-commerce.

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The latest initiative sees the Rwandan government enlisting the services of an American robotics company called Zipline, with the aim of carrying blood and urgent medical supplies to rural areas. It will start with the construction of three drone ports in Muhanga District, with a pilot phase slated to have begun in 2016.

All being well, Foster + Partners will then construct three Droneports by 2020. The firm reckons that up to 44 percent of Rwanda would be covered by the delivery network.

More distant plans include the possibility of creating over 40 Droneports across the country in the future, and expanding into neighboring Congo.

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